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Pretty and Wild the MAgic Mountain Town between Oaxaca City and the Coast
The state of Oaxaca is routinely and deservedly recognized for its regional cuisine, thriving cultural scene, and amazing coastline. But the equally impressive mountain regions are often overlooked and are just waiting to be explored. Rugged ranges covered in towering pines and wild forest flowers accessed via rough and winding roads offer new experiences for the intrepid traveler. One such destination is the enchanting town of San Jose del Pacifico.
Halfway along the road connecting Oaxaca City to the coast, just as you climb to the top of the Sierra Sur mountain range sits San Jose del Pacifico. So named for the views that stretch (on a clear day) all the way to the Pacific coast some 60 kilometers away. Twenty-five hundred meters above sea level, this mountain town sits above the clouds. Lush green forests offer vastly different vegetation from the cactus-covered Oaxaca Valley to the north or palm tree-lined coast to the south.
The town boasts incredible natural beauty, traditional temazcal sweat lodge ceremonies, and a reputation as a place or restorative power. But of special significance here, are the hongos magico, the local psilocybin mushroom, psilocybe mexicana, which grow abundantly in the mountains.
Against this backdrop, an arts and bohemian counter-culture has emerged. Also here, you will find a couple of unique and recommendable dining and accommodation options. It is the perfect place to stop on the long drive to or from the Oaxacan coast. Or, as a destination in its own right. It is a place to unplug, unwind, reconnect with nature, and rejuvenate your body and mind.
Things to Do in San Jose del Pacifico
San Jose del Pacifico may not have a lot going on, but that is just the point of visiting. It is all about relaxation and reconnecting with nature.
Taking Mushrooms in San Jose del Pacifico
Central America is ground zero for the modern-day fascination with psilocybin. Long used by the ancient civilizations as part of religious rituals and ceremonies, researchers, recreational and spiritual users have been experiencing and documenting psilocybin here since the 50s. But it’s not just the long spiritual association with psilocybin and abundant growth of the psilocybe mexicana here. The stunning greenery, innumerable wildflowers, gorgeous mountain views, and epic sunsets make for an incredible backdrop for a mushroom trip.
How to Find Mushrooms in San Jose del Pacifico
You can find mushrooms easily by asking around the town where you can find mushrooms “¿dónde ecuentro hongos?”. However, as the notoriety of the town increases, so too does the opportunity for locals to exploit tourists. There have been increased instances of people being sold fake mushrooms or seriously overcharged. Ask around town and get a feel for prices and sellers before committing to buying anything. The best places to start might be the Hostel Cumbre, the Restaurant above Cabanas Pacifico, or Cabanas Real Del Pacifico but again, most people are going to know what you are talking about, and you can take you time and talk to a few people to get the lay of the land.
The long association and knowledge in the town make this as ‘safe’ a place as any to experience the hongos magicos, but as with any mind-altering substance, do your homework. Being safe (and comfortable) with mushrooms is beyond the scope of this article but there are plenty of resources online. Although police seem to ignore the rampant sale of mushrooms here, be aware that they are still illegal.
San Jose del Pacifico Temazcal
A little bit like a European sauna, the temazcal is a low-heat sweat lodge. Unlike sauna however, temezcal does not just describe the steam bath itself but the ancient ceremony designed to purify and detoxify the body and the mind.
Traditional temezcal is led by a shaman who guides the process and the spiritual aspect of the ceremony.
In San Jose del Pacifico, many of the accommodations offer a traditional adobe hut temazcal. If you want to experience the ritual and ceremony, Paco, a local shaman offers traditional temazcal for 150 pesos.
You can see the times and availability of the Pacos temezcal ceremony outside the tattoo parlor, Arbolcromatico, on the main street. Alternatively, check the shaman’s Facebook page (what an age we live in right?) for updates or drop him a message.
Hiking in San Jose del Pacifico
You don’t need mushrooms to appreciate the overwhelming beauty of this mountain refuge. The sunlight filtered through the dense canopy onto the lush green and the beautiful mountain flowers. The clouds that roll in below you separate you and your magic mountain island from everything else with an endless white sea. Or, on a clear day the inspiring views all the way to the pacific coast. San Jose del Pacifico is one of the most beautiful places we saw in seven months of traveling in Mexico and afternoon hikes a particular highlight.
There are a number of trails beginning in town that traverse the area taking you past the streams, waterfalls, and stunning vistas of the Sierra Surr.
BUT beware the mountain is covered with dense green vegetation, it is easy to become lost. Use a map, take a phone and water and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to come back.
Given the natural beauty and the long association with traditional medicine and ceremony, it makes sense that this area has become an increasingly popular place for wellness retreats.
You can find yoga retreats, silent retreats, meditation retreats, and even ayahuasca retreats here. Refugio Terraza de la Tierra is the setting for numerous retreats and you can see their full offering here.
This may sound a bit silly considering you are looking for the best things to do in San Jose del Pacifico, but doing absolutely nothing and taking in the serenity and beauty of the area. Grab a book and relax. Wake up early to watch the sunrise or pause for a moment and watch the sunset. The main thing to do in San Jose del Pacifico is to simply enjoy the raw and authentic nature that abounds in this peaceful environment.
How to Get to San Jose del Pacifico
Equal distance from Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast and Oaxaca de Juárez (Oaxaca), the drive takes around four hours. Though windy in either direction, the drive south to the coast down the mountain range and all the way back to sea level is far worse. Expect slow going and motion sickness if you are prone.
Taking your own vehicle the drive is simple. There is not too much traffic and if you stick to the 175, the roads are in ‘ok’ condition, even after the wet season. As always be wary of Google maps shortcuts which may lead you astray especially after the rainy season, as many of the unsealed roads may have washed away.
If you don’t have your own vehicle your best bet is colectivo.
If you are coming from the coast, Eclipse 70 runs a mini-bus from their terminal at Pochutla.
Where to Stay in San Jose del Pacifico
When it comes to van life in San Jose del Pacifico, if you are camping or overlanding, know that this town sits precariously on the top of a mountain. Thus, parking and camping space are scarce. There are no quality free campsites. We recommend staying at Refugio Terraza de la Tierra if you are camping in your vehicle or tent. The prices are reasonable, the grounds resplendent and it is a great opportunity to stay a little further from the ramshackle town.
If you need a dwelling, Refugio’s cabanas are gorgeous but a bit on the pricy side ($40 – $50 USD per night). There are a number of accommodation options in town, mostly private cabana-style offerings. And a couple of hostels, the most notable of which being Hostel La Cumbre. Otherwise, such of the accommodation in San Jose del Pacifico does not have online booking so you can simply book on arrival. Make sure you ask to see the rooms and get prices as the quality can vary.
Refugio Terraza de la Tierra
Far and away our pick of places to stay is the Refugio Terraza de la Tierra. This eco-retreat is a few kilometers out of town but they have everything you could need for a completely self-contained trip. If you are overlanding, you can camp in your vehicle for 200 pesos per night. Tent camping costs 100 pesos per person and beautifully appointed cabanas start from 800 pesos.
The on-site restaurant serves set menu breakfasts, lunches and dinners sourced entirely from the onsite veggie garden. Meals cost between 100 and 180 pesos. A wood-fired, traditional adobe temazcal sauna is available during your stay. Also included are meditative spaces, gardens, and a number of walking trails. Daily yoga sessions cost an extra fee. The grounds are spectacular. Beautifully maintained gardens set amongst the mountain forest offer breathtaking views of the valley.
Hostel La Cumbre
This popular hostel offers spectacular views, the opportunity to meet other travelers, and very fair prices. Facilities are very basic, even by backpacker hostel standards. If you are not used to hostels, or backpacking, it may be worth exploring some of the private cabana options around town.
Best Restaurants in San Jose del Pacifico
La Taberna De Los Duendes
Ordering spaghetti in Mexico is a bold move. Ordering it in a town of a few hundred on top of a mountain, bolder. However, La Taberna De Los Duendes is defying logic by serving up HUGE helpings of delicious spaghetti that wouldn’t be out of place in a European restaurant. They also have steaks, salads, cheeses, and a fantastic wine list to accompany your meal. Giant bowls of spaghetti start from around 200 pesos.
Refugio Terraza de la Tierra
The restaurant of this eco-retreat, just up out of town offers fantastic breakfasts, set menu lunches (150 pesos), or set menu dinners (180 pesos). The chef prepares meals sourced entirely from produce grown in their veggie garden, using a wood-fired stove. Make sure to book in advance as meals require 2 hours lead-in time.
The Main Street
Here you can find western cafes with pizza and sandwiches. As well as, classic Mexican kitchens serving wood-fired Oaxacan classics like memelitas, tlayudas, and quesadillas. Cheap and filling, but nothing to write home about. Oaxacan classics like Tlayudas start from around 50 pesos.
Everything You Need to Know Before You Go to San Jose del Pacifico
When is the best time to visit San Jose del Pacifico?
Thanks to its elevation, San Jose stays cooler than the rest of Oaxaca even in the summer months. The moderate temperatures range from around 10 to 25 degrees all year long though there can be some cold nights in winter.
June to Septemeber is the wet season here and lots of rain falls in the mountains.
If you are searching for mushrooms, the wet season is the best time to go to find the fresh mushrooms that grow after rain.
Can I drink the Water in San Jose del Pacifico?
No, like many places in Mexico it is not safe to drink the tap water and you should drink bottled or better yet, purified water.
What’s the Connectivity like in San Jose del Pacifico?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, not very good. San Jose del Pacifico is not good for people who need to be connected for work or other reasons. Use this fact to your advantage and pan to come here to unplug, drop out and unwind for a few days or maybe more.
When we travelled here in 2019 we had a 3g connection (with telcel) however the data connection was extremely slow and we were unable to work.
As of April 2022, Nperf coverage maps indicate that 4g is available in town, but IU would personally be wary of the capacity of service providers in this remote region.
Much like cellular data, wifi is sporadic and unreliable, don’t count on restaurants or hotels to have reliable fast wifi. There is an internet cafe in town where you can pay by the hour to get online.
Or, start planning your own Mexican adventure below.
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